Historical Recollections of AAP's Beginnings*

In 1964 at the AAP Conference held in New York City, recognition awards were given for the founding of the Academy to Henry Guze, Jules Barron and Albert Ellis. It is important to note the earlier history of the Academy and the dual influences of both the profession of psychoanalysis and the political climiate of the 1950's United States.

Henry and Jules both taught at Long Island University and they commuted together by car, sharing ideas and aspirations along the way.  At that time psychoanalysis was the only widely accepted form of therapy. Senator Jospeph McCarthy was in his ascendancy on the national political scene, fomenting virulent forms of anti-Communism and anti-Semitism.  Henry was a pioneer in furthering new ideas outside of traditional psychoanalytic psychotherapy, including the practice of of therapy by non-physician psychotherapists and he was concerned that a tidal wave of political oppression might impact multidisciplinary practice and less traditional theory development.  Henry and Jules decided to gather like-minded colleagues together to discuss the future of a practice of psychotherapy that might be free from the ideological rigidity of the analytic community as well as being capable of resisting the politcal narrowness of the far right that was saturating the overall climate of discourse in the county at the time.

The seminal meeting

In 1954, Henry Guze organized a meeting in Carl Roger’s hotel suite at the Barbizon Plaza during the American Psychological Association convention.  Attending this meeting were Henry Guze, Jules Barron, Albert Ellis, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Harry Bone, George Dolger and Jerome Schneck.    In this meeting there was no clear consensus concerning what kind of organization the Academy should be.  Henry Guze and Jules Barron, supported by Carl Rogers and others, wanted the Academy to be an organization that was a person-oriented forum not only to exchange and discuss ideas in a friendly manner, but a place where one concretely could learn from each others’ ways of working and where one could get peer-supervision and personal support for one’s own work as a psychotherapist.

Emphasis on the personal support of the therapist as well as intellectual learning was one of the unique characteristics of the Academy.  By calling the organization The American Academy of Psychotherapists, the emphasis is something rather unique for the psychotherapy profession – namely, that the emphasis is on the person of the therapist rather than theories and techniques.

The first Institute & Conference and Summer Workshop

Albert Ellis organized AAP's first annual Institute and Conference at The New York Academy of Science in 1956.  It was organized like a conventional professional conference with presentations of papers and discussions. 

George Dolger, Henry Guze’s office partner at the time, chaired the first Summer Workshop, held in Madison, Wisconsin in 1957.  An innovation of this workshop was attendees viewing other therapists interviewing patients from a nearby mental hospital.  Also, based on Carl Whitaker and John Warkentin’s experiences of multiple therapy, at times several therapists would present their work together or in tandem with patients, taking the risk of opening themselves up to scrutiny by colleagues and reaping the rewards of their feedback.  This was unheard of in most traditions of psychotherapy in the fifties, dominated as the times were by psychoanalytic notions of psychotherapy that kept what happened in the therapy room secret.  At the Summer Workshops, therapy and the therapist were out in the open.  And in the feedback of the sessions, therapists began relating how they worked to who they were as persons. This developed into the central dynamic of the Academy: therapy is based not on the theory, school, or technique so much as on the person of the therapist.

Over time, Summer Workshops also evolved into including experiential workshops and process groups where therapists began working with each other in groups to develop their own skills and capacities to relate as therapists and people. While initially these groups began and ended within a single meeting, some members developed ongoing peer groups, many of which have now existed for decades in the Academy.  These peer groups provide a unique opportunity for experiential growth, learning, and support for development over time.

* This history has been compiled by AAP Historian Suzanne Timms from the writings of Earl Brown, former President of the Academy; Lars Hem from the Center of Psychotherapy; past issues of the Academy Newsletters; articles from the Academy journals and memories of members.